The rally community seems to have learned to behave in the context of quarantine and we will no longer have those empty weekends as we did a year ago. Italians often have at least a couple of rallies taking place on the same weekend. Everything happens without spectators, but they will come back. In Australia, Philip Island hosted the GT World Challenge Australia race, where after a long break, the stands were no longer filled with ghosts but with motorsport fans.
Rally Il Ciocco e Valle del Serchio, this long rally name means the same thing that rally names often mean to us – the geographical area where the event takes place. Heaps of Italians and guests from other lands gathered in beautiful Tuscany, where rally-ready roads stretched in the valley of the third-longest river, the Serchio. On Friday evening, there was a short test of just a couple of kilometers on the streets of Il Ciocco, and on Saturday, 3 different sections of the road were already waiting, which the participants had to drive three times each. Special stages – typical of the Italian mountains, winding, with many turns and hairpins. Usually a cliff on one side and a stone wall on the other. In some places, there was a lot of snow near the road, but there was no on the asphalt. But it was wet in some places. Another phenomenon that has reduced the quality of grip was the dirt in the trajectories due to the cuts being made. The 10 special stages totaled a distance of 94 kilometers.
Although the action has been going on in this southern European country for some time, the main Italian championship only started last weekend. Another, also popular – Italian WRC Championship will start in mid-April. At the start line, more or less the whole best of the Italian rally gathered. Only Luca Pedersoli swapped this event for the Rally Bardolino, which took place the same weekend. Some participants started the season with new equipment. The old wolf Paolo Andreucci, known throughout the region as simply Ucci, sat down in a car that saw the World outside of France after a 13-year hiatus. Paolo has been working with a Peugeot concern for a very long time and has already almost hung a helmet on a nail a couple of times, but here he is still driving. And Indian tire manufacturer MRF, which tests and improves its tires all over Europe, took a chance to use Ucci’s experience.
As for the cars, when reviewing the list of participants, an additional name next to the Suzuki Swift Sport name comes to attention. That record is not surprising on the streets, but it is still extremely rare in the rally – Hybrid. Many spears have been broken in the drafting of the latest WRC 2022 rules, which will integrate hybrid systems into the fastest rally cars. And at the lower levels, this integration is already taking place successfully. The Suzuki Swift Sport Hybrid debuted last year. It has an R1 / Rally5 speed, with a 129 hp 1.4-liter turbine engine and a hybrid system. Everything works similarly to the Toyota Prius that has conquered our streets. The 14hp electric motor gives off its power as soon as you press the accelerator pedal, thus significantly increasing the dynamics of the car. Then turbo takes the job. And the energy consumed in the battery is regenerated during braking. This system also supplies electricity to all other parts of the car that require voltage. 5 such cars, which are covered with Toyo tires, started in this rally. The lone Fiat 500 Hybrid also joined the five. Last fall, in the last rally of the US Championship, it was also possible to see a hybrid car – Toyota Prius.
Guests from Germany, France, San Marino, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Belgium, Estonia came to Tuscany. The Czechs F.Mareš and E.Cais are known to those who are interested in the European Rally Championship, along C.Breen and T.Neuville known for almost everyone who is interested in rallying at all. The Hyundai WRC team is not lazy and is not wasting time. Although the next stage of the World Rally Championship does not seem to be close yet – at the end of April, some teams are already intensively preparing for it. And it’s worth it, because the Croatian rally is new, so there is no one with the accumulated knowledge. The roads in this part of Italy are a bit reminiscent of Croatian, but apart from the specifics of the road, Hyundai has other tasks. For example, to improve communication between Neuville and M. Wydaeghe, as in the Arctic Thierry had difficulty understanding Martijn’s pacenotes. And here’s Craig Breen, who has raced in Italy and achieved famous victories in 2019, probably trying to prove he’s worthy of a seat in his third Hyundai car next month. The representatives of the factory team drove an equivalent to the Italians – R5 machine.
The moods after the rally were different. Thierry rejoiced in his first victory this year, and here Craig Breen tested the quality of the Italian healthcare system. Irishmen had flown off the road when the tire exploded in a turn. Physics was not in favor of Craig, as after puncture car denied any Breen’s control attempts. And he wasn’t the only one in trouble – more cars were buried by at least a few crews. Fortunately, none of the participants suffered more serious injuries. Andrea Crugnola, who was the main contender to tickle the World Rally racers, had problems with the new Hyundai i20 R5. Broken driveshaft left Andrea only tenth. The other contenders also had problems, so no one resisted the Belgian. On the other hand, there was no attempt to over-press either, as the points of the Italian championship were placed on the card and the guests did not participate in the championship, so they did not threaten the number of points to be obtained. But for the Belgian, this rally was not an easy walk either, as the Italians are naturally extremely fast on their asphalt. C.Breen also drove at the same pace before the accident.
The next event of the Italian championship is the legendary San Remo rally.
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Photos – Photobriano, Stefano Romeo, Julien PixelRallye